Successful operators of the future will be the ones who use technology best.
By Sarv Devaraj, CarexTech
Innovations in technology have paved the way for greater effectiveness and efficiencies in all industries, and senior care is no exception.
In the senior living environment, new technology continues to advance quality of care, improve business efficiencies, deliver actionable insights, and help better connect caregivers, residents and families in meaningful engagement.
In a Holleran Insight Poll released in 2015, the overwhelming majority of operators responding indicated that “engagement” is an integral part of their community’s vernacular. Based on a survey we conducted of 120 families in the process of selecting a senior living community for their loved one, 94 percent said that they were more likely to select a community that offered some kind of technology that kept them up to date and engaged in the lives of their loved one.
Of these solutions, the most effective ones are tied to the operator’s highly marketed, branded activity and wellness programs.
Integrating the programs
Seniors and their families choose a community based on three primary factors: physical design/amenities, dining options and quality of programming. For the operator, design and food are strategic, one-time decisions. Activity programs, on the other hand, are ongoing, organized programs centered on mind, body and spirit.
When people visit a senior living residence, they expect it to look pleasing and have a variety of dining options but will look closely at how engaged the residents in the various programs offered at the community. A community that offers vibrant programs with high engagement from the residents naturally leaves a lasting positive impression. Operators know their community’s activity program — what Mom will do here every day — is critically important to her well-being and will greatly affect the family’s decision.
Evidence suggests that engaged family members can offer triple value: Improved quality of life for residents, less stress for caregivers and greater satisfaction for families. When tied to activity programming, engagement solutions designed with the right intent — to enhance human touch — are those that shine by enhancing connectivity and communication between caregiver, Mom and you.
Imagine having the ability to see photos and videos of Mom attending activities. You can have complete visibility into upcoming community programming and encourage her to participate. For a caregiver, it’s easy to quickly get a report of your mother’s attendance. Advanced solutions also allow you to communicate back.
Wellness through technology
Engagement solutions do more than inform; they also serve as a mechanism to gather information. The ability for family members to upload their loved one’s biographical information is an essential ingredient to advanced solutions, allowing operators to better understand the resident’s likes, dislikes and favored activities.
Engagement technology also is important because it helps assuage the anxiety and stress a family feels when Mom has entered senior living, regardless of the reason.
Despite family members’ best intentions or desires, 41 percent of the 1.7 million Americans in assisted living communities don’t receive a weekly family visit. This lack of interaction with family leads to loneliness, anxiety, isolation and depression among residents.
Additionally, whether family members live close or far away, it’s almost like sending your first-born away to college. There is worry and mystery about what you don’t know and can’t see because you’re cannot be there all the time.
Engagement solutions help alleviate not being with a loved one as much as desired. But, to be clear, engagement technology should not be thought of as a means to replace the “human touch.” Instead, it is a means to enhance and foster it.
For the operator, technology solutions backed by robust data analytics capabilities not only help improve care, but also the bottom line.
Data capture is important, but only if you can harvest useful information and learn from it. Solutions with strong data-mining capabilities can easily generate family and regulatory reports as well as measure performance goals at community, regional and companywide levels.
How to pick your solution
There are several technology solutions on the market to manage activities and/or provide engagement, and differentiating them can be challenging. Activity calendar management programs have been out for years, but many are now considered basic.
Here are things you should consider when evaluating an activity management platform that includes engagement features:
- Compatibility: Before you read about all of the dazzling things the solution can do, make sure it is compatible with your existing electronic health records platform. If it isn’t, you should ask if implementation might be possible.
- Real-time Information Sharing: How does it allow you to keep families informed in real time of their loved ones’ activities? Look for a solution that enables the caregiver to share activity participation quickly and easily, even using a common mobile device. Of course, it must be HIPAA compliant.
- Biographical Information Sharing: Can a family member upload biographical information, likes, dislikes and other insights about their loved one that will be helpful to the caregiver? Look for this important feature. Be sure that it’s also readily available to the caregiver in real-time and easily accessible on mobile devices.
- Quick, Resident-Specific Reporting: When a resident’s family member asks you if Mom is participating in activities, can you easily provide a report with the click of a few buttons to respond? This is also important from a regulatory perspective, to have the capability to pull up resident information during an inspection. Having to pull information from other sources and compile it to create a response is a thing of the past. Today’s solutions can do this easily with a few keystrokes.
- Signature Program Reporting Capabilities: Does it provide reporting tied to your branded program? If you offer activities tied to five quality-of-life categories, can you measure against those five areas? You should be sure your solution is flexible so that you can tie your activities to your customized categories, then generate reports that break down performance in those areas.
- Evaluation & Actionable Insights: Can you view and evaluate activity programming at the community level, by region or get the wide view of the entire company by filtering your data? Look for a program that offers advanced, flexible filtering capabilities so that you can sort your data to get the report you want. Don’t accept only a few report options.
- Ease of Use: How long will it take for caregivers to learn and use the system? Programs that are easy to learn and use will gain adoption and be used more heavily that those that are cumbersome and chained to a desktop computer. More importantly, you will see ROI faster if your staff can quickly start using the solution.
- Evidence/Science: This is a big decision for your company. Make sure you use the right solution by asking the provider questions about the research/science behind the solution offered. If it is not evidence-based, chances are it is on shaky ground.
Operators using best-in-class technology — including advanced activity management and engagement solutions — will continue to forge the path in seniors housing. They will improve overall care and profits, while keeping their competitors on their heels.
Sarv Devaraj, PhD, is Fred V. Duda Chair Professor of Management at the University of Notre Dame and co-author of a Prentice-Hall/Financial Times book on ROI of technology. He is also the co-founder of CarexTech Inc. and developer of SMILE, a web-based platform providing communications.